By Matthew Soderberg | Sports Writer
For the first time in Baylor volleyball history, the Bears find themselves as the No. 1 overall national seed as they prepare to kick off their postseason run against Sacred Heart tonight.
The 20-11 Pioneers will be Baylor’s first opponent in Big 12 Coach of the Year Ryan McGuyre’s fourth playoff stretch. Sacred Heart earned its berth in this year’s tournament after winning the Northeast Conference, and will face its toughest match of the year.
The visiting team features a 0.221 hitting percentage this season and is led by redshirt-senior Liisel Nelis and senior hitter Julia Murawinski who combine for nearly six kills per set. Even with an opponent ranked No. 189, McGuyre said the mentality for this game has to be the same as the rest of this season.
“There’s a healthy self-satisfaction,” McGuyre said. “The challenge was laid out there, and the girls did a tremendous job rising to the occasion. You’ve heard the girls say it— it is 0-0. So, it’s back to the challenge that we’ve had all year.”
Senior outside hitter Gia Milana said there aren’t any easy times at this point in the season.
“Everyone’s good at this point,” Milana said. “You have teams that even though they’re not in super huge conferences, they have that grit. They’ve been training all year like we have. They have players on their team that are leaders.”
With the possibility of hosting both weekends for the first time, there are high expectations floating around campus for the Bears. Junior outside hitter and Big 12 Player of the Year Yossiana Pressley said the team is ready for anything people throw at them.
“I’m pretty sure that we can definitely win, but we have to bring it every day in practice, in our nutrition, in the classroom,” Pressley said. “Whenever we are zoned in on volleyball, we are completely zoned in, and there are no outside factors that could affect anything.”
The Big 12 announced conference honors Tuesday, and Baylor took home some hardware. Alongside Pressley and McGuyre, junior Hannah Lockin earned Setter of the Year, and senior Shelly Stafford was named unanimous All-Big 12 First Team. Milana and freshman middle blocker Kara McGhee both earned Second Team, while McGhee added a unanimous Freshman Team selection as well.
If the Bears advance past the Pioneers, they’ll face the winner of the Stephen F. Austin-Southern California match Saturday night. The Jacks and theTrojans face off at 5 p.m. today.
SFA is 31-1 after a Cinderella season, undefeated records on neutral and home courts and a Southland Conference championship. USC is 17-13 after a brutal Pac-12 conference schedule and a loss at Texas.
The Baylor Bears will look to avoid a slip-up at 7 p.m. tonight in the Ferrell Center against unranked Sacred Heart. The game will be available on ESPN3 through the ESPN app.